- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Rey Cabanos smiles when asked what he thinks about one of the sniper trials being moved to Virginia Beach.

“It’s going to bring business to us,” said Mr. Cabanos, who owns the cafeteria in the basement of the courthouse. “It’s positive.”

His is one of only a few eateries within walking distance of the courthouse. And he’s not the only business person looking forward to the Oct. 14 trial of John Allen Muhammad, along with the Nov. 10 trial for the second suspect, Lee Boyd Malvo, in nearby Chesapeake.

Some hotels have increased their rates by as much as $40 in anticipation of perhaps hundreds of out-of-town reporters, plus attorneys.

Each trial could last six to eight weeks.

Economics professor James V. Koch warned that the economic effect of the trials will be highly targeted, with restaurants, hotels and telecommunications vendors most likely to benefit.

The trials, he said, will have little economic effect overall on Hampton Roads, the port- and military-dominated region in southeastern Virginia that includes Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. The area has about 1.5 million residents.

The region’s gross domestic product, or the value of its economic activity is about $50 billion, said Mr. Koch, who teaches at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, also in the Hampton Roads area.

“People forget about how large our regional economy is — it’s huge,” he said. “What will be true is the economic impact will be substantial in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, especially among certain hotel owners and restaurants.”

Mr. Muhammad, 42, is charged in the slaying of Dean H. Meyers at a gasoline station near Manassas. Mr. Malvo, 18, is charged in the Fairfax County shooting of Linda Franklin, 47. Both defendants could face the death penalty.

The judges in the cases agreed to move the trials 200 miles away from the Washington suburbs that were terrorized last year. Defense attorneys had argued that every resident in the two Northern Virginia counties expected to hold the trials could be considered a victim because of the fear that gripped the area.

Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo have been linked to 20 shootings, including 13 killings, in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and the District. Prosecutors have said the killings in Washington area were part of a scheme to extort $10 million from the government.

Kimberly Schlick, director of sales and marketing for LTD Management Co. Inc., which manages several hotels in Chesapeake, said media people likely will stay for both trials and look for a central location. Fewer than 10 hotels and motels are within a 10-minute drive to the Chesapeake courthouse.

The city of Chesapeake also has received calls from residents offering to rent out their homes during the trial, said city spokesman Mark S. Cox.

“The general consensus is that this probably the biggest event that has ever happened in Chesapeake, certainly in terms of national attention,” he said.

Zero’s Subs, a sandwich place down the street from the Virginia Beach courthouse, plans to order extra food and bring in additional staff during the Muhammad trial. Owner Willie Wilcox expects the store’s usual 200 customers a day to at least double.

“We’re really happy that this is coming here,” Mr. Wilcox said. “We expect it to really help us.”

Even restaurants that aren’t quite so close to the action expect to draw more customers.

A Taste Unlimited store about eight miles from the cafeteria-lacking Chesapeake courthouse may send employees to the courthouse around lunchtime to sell box lunches, said assistant manager Woody Williams.

The store also expects to see an influx of reporters at suppertime, because it is near the hotels closest to the courthouse, Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Williams said he had pondered whether the store might appear to be exploiting a tragedy.

“I had thought about it, but I feel like people do have to eat,” he said. “I know the reason why they’re here is an unfortunate circumstance.”

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